Below is a transcript of what Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said at the Bangalore Literary Festival. The festival was designed to bring the focus onto the literary heritage of the city and to transform Bangalore into the hub of Indian Literature. The event honoured the creative spirit of the city while providing a common platform for interaction between the finest literary brains in the world of literature; both within and outside India.
It is nice to be here with you in this literary festival.
Literature and spirituality have a long relationship. If spirituality is alive today on this planet, it is because of literature. Most of the literature that is prevalent, read and practiced, at least in this country, has some spiritual connection.
Again, what is spirituality? Is it something out there, or is it something practical? I would say that anything that uplifts the spirit is spirituality. In the sense that, every literature that uplifts you, brings a smile on your face, gives you that much needed relaxation, or some confidence when things are crumbling, or some faith when all is shaken and lacking, I would call it spirituality.
In fact, I would say that all poems come from that space which I call spiritual. It all comes from an inner (spiritual) plane, or the intuitive awareness.
The book, An Intimate Note to the Sincere Seeker, is an outcome of dialogues that I would have with a group of youth, every Wednesday, for seven years. We would ask each other some questions, discuss some topics, churn an intellectual debate, and with whatever came up, we would make a knowledge sheet from it.
There is a saying in Sanskrit, ‘Vade vade jayate tattvabodhah’, every debate brings forth an understanding of principles. When we debate on our experiences, something very beautiful comes out of it. So, debate is definitely a part of literature, and spirituality.
A deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction is the sign of a spiritual experience.
In the Art of Living, we take the help of the breath (since the breath and mind are closely linked) to bring that much needed relaxation for the body and mind. This is helpful for people who face the writer’s block. So if you are a writer, when you sit to write, do some breathing exercises and relax. You will see that suddenly the Gyana Nadi, as it is called in Yogic Science, (i.e., a particular channel of energy), opens up. Then you are able to write, and the writer’s block just vanishes.
So, spirituality is very useful for writers to be innovative, intuitive and creative.
A few minutes of deep silence can enhance our ability to express ourselves much better.
Can you observe what is happening to you right now? Can you read in between the words? Can you feel something is settling down in the mind?
The rat race that is happening with our thoughts, when it slows down, something wonderful starts happening within ourselves.
Writers usually prefer to be with nature. Do you know what really happens when you are with nature; be it at the seaside, or the mountainside, or in the garden? Something slows down within. That is when your entropy goes down, and creativity comes up.
This is exactly how the writer’s block opens up for many people when they go on a retreat, or go to some quiet place.
When you sit and write something early in the morning, you feel much better because of the atmosphere or the ambience that is around you. We can create this ambience wherever we are, and at our own will, we don’t have to be somewhere. We can calm this mind just by attending to our breath.
When I started writing in 1972, I was 16 years old. One of my very close friend’s fathers, was a very famous writer called Gopal Krishna Adiga, and many times, we would just sit and chat with him. We were surrounded by people of eminence who inspired us to do something.; I would tell them that after reading their books or poems, I couldn’t write anything because whatever I felt, it was already written!
So, for young and budding writers, I would suggest that you don’t read many big books. Instead; you go and watch some paintings.
Painters should not go and see other’s paintings. I would suggest that they read books, so they can paint well.
Sometimes you feel someone has written so well that you can’t write better than them. Whatever it is that you want to say, has already been said and done. This is exactly the feeling I got when I used to read some of the works of Krishna, Adiga's, or Dr. D.V. Gundappa’s Mankuthimmana Kagga. They have written about things that many of us have experienced.
Literature plays such an important role in instilling common sense in people. It can also create prejudice and wrong notions, and it can also make someone’s mind very narrow. We have seen what has happened in China and many other parts of the world. It is all through literature that a set of ideology was imposed, and a large population has suffered; millions of people have died by adhering to those parts.
Chhattisgarh, a place I am to visit today, is an area afflicted by Naxalite activities. It also has its own literature. The Naxalites believe so strongly in it that they quote Napoleon, and say, ‘Violence is the way!’
I told them that Napoleon didn’t ask anyone to vote for him! He went and acquired the kingdom with his strength; so we have to work on our own strength.
This sort of brain-washing or infusing of an ideology towards violence has happened on the planet. On the contrary, the same has happened with peace also; the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many others are based on peace, perseverance, patience and spreading love, which is far more essential today.
Literature can lead people astray from peace, and it can also bring them peace. It can create a sense of anger and frustration, or a sense of belongingness and love. We all know this.; I am not saying it should be one or the other.
Life is very complex and it can be complete only when it has all the aspects. Any literature should have a little bit of sarcasm, skepticism, thrill, something for people to ponder on rather than give them everything on a platter.
People should come up with their own ideas. Individuality should grow in literature. It is my opinion that literature should lead people to individuality rather than mass hysteria or an idea. It should allow people to think for themselves, to come up with creativity, to come up with their own ideas, and at the same time, honor the universal human values.
To the sincere seekers, I would like to give them a note, seek the highest!
Seek life beyond what it appears to be, beyond the perception of our five senses. Look into the mystical aspect of life, which is prevalent in every one of us. You don’t have to go somewhere, you can simply see life in a bigger context.
Ask yourself, who am I? What am I doing? What do I want? What is this universe about? What is all this about? This enquiry within you makes you a seeker. Every literate person, I feel, should be a seeker. Seeking should not end.
Seeking begins in life at a very early age. A three year old child starts asking questions, and this should continue our whole life, where we want to know, where we want to see what the truth is, and what life is; to understand this complex idea called human life; to understand the minds of others, and one’s own mind!
Putting attention on these faculties that we have been bestowed with - the mind, intellect, memory, ego, and something beyond, from where thoughts come will make our life so much richer. Prejudice should be done away with. An open minded approach to any field, I feel, is real common sense.
Questions & Answers
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I am a professional writer. Should I write stories for the commercial market or should I stay faithful to my own art, write what I deeply feel about, which possibly may not sell?
Sri Sri: Why do you have to choose between these two? Why don’t you do both? Write for commercial purposes, and write something that is very immortal, to go for times to come.
(Ans: But Gurudev, I have an identity. Either I hold on to my identity, or have two identities.)
You can have more than one identity. Why do you want to be stuck with one identity? You can do this and that. I feel there is no conflict.
Gurudev, what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
Sri Sri: Knowledge is what is up in your head, and wisdom is what is in your life; that which has come as your experience is wisdom. Knowledge is what you have heard and acquired by reading and listening. Knowledge is like reading the menu, and wisdom is having eaten that!
Spirituality is the need of our country. The reality is that it is limited to the rich, and the ones who can afford it. What should be done so that every common person who may not financially be able afford it, gets to experience it?
Sri Sri: Spirituality has nothing to do with money; absolutely not! Poor people can benefit from spirituality as much as the rich people. In fact, we are doing programs in so many villages, nearly 40,000 villages in the country, and in slum areas.
When poor people take to spirituality, they really take it sincerely. They get out of the habits of drinking alcohol, and drug abuse.
We have also conducted programs in jails. So, I do not agree that spirituality is only for the elite or rich people, it is for everybody. However, if something is free, rich people don’t go towards it. If they have to pay something, then rich people go. Then they think there is something to get out of it. This is the psychology of the rich people.
Gurudev, over a period of time, there have been various emotions that have brought forth great literature, but those have been of negative emotions, like pain and longing and it does not feel apt. I feel one can go into greater levels of the positive side. How can I use both?
Sri Sri: You must remember that people are very different. We are not in a homogenous society, we are in a very heterogeneous society. Even within an individual, he is not the same throughout; his moods change, his feelings change.
For example, when someone wants to listen to music, sometimes they listen to music that is very jarring, sometimes they listen to music that has longing or melancholy. People’s moods change; when the moods change, the type of literature they pick up at that time also changes. Personalities are different, and they enjoy different things.
In India, in the ancient days, there was a concept of navarasa, nine moods. A literature is said to be complete when it has all the nine moods; anger, valor, a sort of desperation, sadness. All these different moods attract people at different times. Some people like humor a lot. Some others would not like to read humor all the time, but they would like to read, as you said, literature that touches your heart, or makes you cry, or makes you a little more emotional. You need to cater to all sections of society, and genuinely, what you feel at that time, you must express it.
You can’t force yourself to be humorous; you can’t force yourself to write a love story, or a love song. If it is not coming from within, then your efforts, I think, may not be as fruitful, as they should be.
If appreciating a work of art or literature is emotional, i.e., it moves a person, then isn’t it more emotional than cerebral?
Sri Sri: Literature cannot be emotional only. If it is only mushy-mushy, then people will not like to read it. Reading is an intellectual job, it can’t be too dry, like reading a technical book, then it will be very boring. Literature should be a combination of a little bit of emotions and a little bit of intellectual sharpness; like modern poetry, which has an intellectual angle. It stimulates your intellect, and kindles and sparks the much needed emotion.
I think all successful literature has both these aspects.
Sir, I have read many times that desire is the root cause of evil. I tried to conquer my desires, but I don’t know what to do next!
Sri Sri: This is another desire! To conquer desire is another desire, right?
Sir, I have very few desires, but what next, in the path of spirituality?
Sri Sri: : In the path of spirituality, what is next is contentment. When you have contentment, you are not burning with some small desire. If at all you have a desire, you have a very big desire, like, I want everyone to be happy, I want the whole world to be peaceful. These are the desires you should have!
Small desires should become bigger desires, and bigger desires don’t bring you tension. Only small things bring you tension.
There is a saying in Sanskrit, ‘Naalpe sukham asti yo vai bhumaa tat sukham’.
The mind always goes for something that is bigger; some bigger joy, bigger bliss. It is its nature, you cannot avoid it. The mind wants to have something bigger, and spirituality gives you that bigger joy, bigger happiness.
There is one kind of happiness that you get by taking; as children we all have it. However, a grown up person has happiness in giving; like a mother at home. She enjoys cooking for everybody, but when she is all by herself she doesn’t make five or ten different varieties of food and eat. She never does that. She will have a cup of tea or coffee and munch something. So there is the joy in giving. Authors and literary giants have this joy that I gave something to society, I wrote something. There is a joy in it; go for that.
Gurudev, spirituality has become a buzzword amongst many people. Everybody wants to say 'I meditate, I am spiritual'. What is spirituality?
Sri Sri: We are all made up of both matter and spirit, right? Our body is made up of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals. The spirit is made up of creativity, peace, love, joy, anger and all these emotions. Spirituality is attending to the spirit; who am I? Am I this body? What are thoughts? What is the source of thoughts? What are these emotions? What is the source of these emotions?
Going to the source of thoughts and emotions, finding that still space in you, is spirituality. Then, you will find that is what everything is made up of!
If you are a Quantum Physicist, I tell you then you are a spiritualist also. You can’t separate these two! Because a quantum physicist also says the same thing, i.e., this whole universe is made up of just one thing. He understands this, and a spiritualist says it in with experience, ‘Yes, whatever I am that is what everybody is made up of. We are all one. The whole world is one organism.’
This understanding gives enormous confidence, peace and unconditional love. Everybody has a bit of spirituality in them. There is no one on this planet who is devoid of spirituality.
How does one qualify to become a spiritual leader?
Sri Sri: Is there a way to become a spiritual guide? I don’t think so, and I don’t know. I don’t know if there is a way at all! You may ask me how I became a spiritual guide. I just know that whatever I learnt, I kept sharing with other people, that's all!
One thing I have maintained is, I am not going to speak about anything that has not come in the purview of my experience. So whatever was there, I kept sharing with people.
In the same way, each and every one of you is a spiritual teacher; consciously or unconsciously, you are teaching everyone. You are teaching by your good deeds, and you are also teaching others through your mistakes. When you make a mistake, not only do you learn from your mistake but a whole lot of people around you are learning from your mistake. So, being a spiritual teacher is unavoidable for you on this planet! You don’t have to change your dress and put on a dhoti-kurta, or a spiritual dress, or have longer hair; this is not necessary!
If you are able to smile, genuinely; if you are able to feel love for everyone, then not only you, but others will also feel the same for you. It just makes your life very rich. It opens up a door to another dimension. If you are a meditator, you know it and will agree with me as well.
Gurudev, is destiny bigger than determination? For example, if someone is destined to become a manager, can he become an actor?
Sri Sri: Hold on to your dreams, one day, it will come true.
I was also a student in this same city. I thought I should go around the world and unite people of all countries as one family. People thought I was crazy! When you have some vision like that, people definitely think that you have lost it! However, if you hold onto your dream, one day it will come true.